walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_Forcing the Spring_, Jo Becker

Subtitled: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality

There are some word-os (intimated when intimidated was meant, inappropriate duplication of words such as "that that" when it is not called for, missing words, etc.). It is a little irritating.

The reviews over on Amazon are a little startling as I type this: 44 reviews, 2 stars overall. Virtually all of the negative reviews are in-movement objections along the lines of, hey, HRC isn't really all that and Chad shouldn't get all the credit and Windsor is the case that is actually being used as precedent etc.

Jo Becker has written one of the most amazing sourcing essays at the end of this book that I have ever read. I didn't read it first and I'm not sure whether I should have or not. She presents an incredible amount of dialogue and self-described feelings throughout the years that the book covers, but did it in a way that just sort of slid right into my brain as part of the story (often, this kind of stuff makes me go, are you inventing this based on recollection? Did everyone keep really good journals? Was there video? WTF?). Turns out she was actually there for a huge fraction of what she describes: she embedded early on with the plaintiffs and other parties (Judge Walker, defending counsel Cooper) were very generous with their time in interviews at the end of the process.

Becker starts with Prop 8 passing, and an effort started by Chad Griffin and Kristina Schake to legally challenge it in court that succeeded in arriving, eventually, at the Supreme Court along with Edie Windsor's estate tax/DOMA challenge. Griffin and Schake get the Reiners to help fund raise, and they bring in Ted Olson who, in turn, brought in David Boies, guaranteeing an enormous amount of media coverage throughout the various legal maneuvering (since these guys had faced off against each other in Bush v Gore in addition to being high profile as individuals). If you're old enough to be reading this, you more or less had some awareness of this case as it inched along: the mystery of who is Cooper? California declining to defend Prop 8 and the question of standing on the part of the people who filed Prop 8 to defend it in turn. The trial itself with the disappearing defense witnesses and the question of whether it could be taped and put up on YouTube. The various delays that led to the DOMA cases catching up to it. Obama's "evolving" position on marriage equality. Biden "getting in front of his skis". The 2012 election cycle. Whether the case would be certified and then the decision to hear it and Windsor together. The marriages at the end.

Marriage equality existed as a movement long before this case got started, and Becker's presentation guarantees that you won't be _that_ surprised at the nature of the negative reviews on Amazon. Every significant social/civil rights movement has many stages that it passes through before succeeding in changing the world in a way that makes our own past that much more incomprehensible. Becker was there for when marriage equality passed from being an issue deprecated from many sides (on the one hand, because marriage itself is regarded by some as a very problematic institution; on another hand, because it was too important to risk dangerous precedent against marriage equality; on a third hand, because procreation/ew gross <-- full disclosure, I fell firmly into the first group, altho I'm not a sufficiently principled creature to object to actually being Partner A in a Massachusetts marriage in August 2004) to being a cause that ordinary people who had once voted for same-sex marriage bans were prepared to support because they now knew and felt strong connections of friendship, kinship and love for people who were suffering from being cut off from this basic institutional building block of our society. That pivot -- from a marginal, unpopular, but passionate group of people who are at the vanguard to a mainstream, popular, oh, wait, if they're in favor of it it probably isn't cool any more -- is a difficult one for those who are early adopters of important changes.

Becker praises her cast of characters highly, and presents many of the people who struggled against and/or with them less positively. If you're hoping for journalism of the don't-take-sides variety, this is not it. But it is a rollicking good tale, and while a lot of people are taking shots at the book, they do not appear to have any beef with the details, so much as they do with the framing -- and the trouble they have with the framing is sufficiently self-serving that I think we can all just agree to disagree.

Go read it. This was _fun_, even more so than Warren's _A Fighting Chance_.

ETA: I know some of the objections to marriage equality involve identity politics concerns on the part of people who don't fit into the dyadic, permanent relationship model of "marriage". There are some real trigger-y moments reading this (anyone who identifies as bi- or poly- or anywhere near there on some spectrum is going to find a lot of the rhetoric irritating if not infuriating). For me, it is also bittersweet to read so many stories of people who finally came around as accepting/loving parents/family members in the course of the case (especially in the wake of Biden/Obama/etc. coming out in favor of marriage equality as a right). I am _so very happy_ for all those families. And they provide such a contrast to my relationships with my own parents, older sisters and other JW family members.
Tags: book review, history, politics, sexuality
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